Updated: PRAISE has been given to those involved in bringing a gang of badger-baiters to justice in what has been described as one of the most horrific cases of animal cruelty seen in Ryedale.

Witnesses and police officers were commended by the judge as a gang of six men and a youth were found guilty of hunting and killing badgers, including a heavily pregnant animal.

Judge Christina Harrison said wildlife artist Robert Fuller, who gave evidence during the trial, had been particularly courageous in taking the photographs secretly before he was spotted by the men on land at Paradise Farm, Howsham, near Malton, last January.

“We owe him a great debt because without his evidence the case may not have come to court,” she said.

Found guilty at the end of a two-week trial at Scarborough Court, were Alan Alexander, 32, of Bramham Close, York, William Edward Anderson, 26, of Hillside, Cropton Lane, Pickering, Richard Simpson, 37, of Wains Road, York, Paul Ian Tindall, 33 of Bramham Grove, York, and a 17-year-old York youth, all of whom had pleaded not guilty to charges of wilfully killing two badgers, digging out a badger sett, interfering with a sett and hunting a wild animal with dogs.

Two others, Christopher Martin Holmes, 28, of Bell Farm Avenue, York, and Malcolm David Warner, 28, of Princess Drive, York, pleaded guilty at the start of the trial to the charges. All seven had their cases adjourned for sentence until January 10.

Another man, James Henry Doyle, 34, of Westfield Avenue, Knottingley, was cleared of all the charges.

The court heard how the men had been seen and heard laughing and watching two large dogs worrying a badger, but no attempt had been made to pull them off the animal, which was eventually shot by one of them because of its condition.

Another had been ravaged to death in a “tug-of-war” between two Lurcher-type dogs.

Judge Harrison said she was acquitting Doyle because she believed he was genuinely distressed about the matter and he had not lied in his evidence.

The evidence given to the court of a ninth man being involved, but whom the defendants would not name, other than to say he was in jail, was “a ludicrous proposition”, said Judge Harrison.

The men had tried to fool the police by carefully restoring the area where they had dug out a sett and put a terrier down to get the badger out.

The heavily pregnant badger had died “a horrible death being ripped to pieces” before being slung back in the hole either dying or dead.

Speaking after the case, RSPCA Insp Geoff Edmund said: “It was without question the worst case I have seen in 20 years. It was horrific. These men went to the farm with the intention of baiting and killing the badgers with dogs. It was barbaric.”

Jean Thorpe, who has run Ryedale Badger Watch, a group which scours farmland watching out for badger- baiters, for the past 30 years, said: “It was one of the most serious and horrific cases of badger-baiting I have ever come across.

“I couldn’t sleep for a week after I heard about it because these badgers had been dug from the sett, ragged and baited with dogs.

“In all, three adult badgers and four unborn cubs were lost. The men knew what they were doing. We couldn’t have had a better witness than Robert Fuller and his photographs. Everyone is very grateful to him because it has been a difficult case.”

Mr Fuller, whose work as a wildlife painter and photographer has earned him national recognition, said badger-baiting was often seen as a hidden sport, but this had happened on a Sunday afternoon.

“My wife was walking with our daughter and dogs near Kirkham Abbey just a short distance away. They could easily have come across the baiting as could anyone else using the public footpath,” he said.

“It was cruel beyond belief. It was a shock and sheer disbelief when I found the gang.”

Mr Fuller said that he realised he had put himself in a vulnerable position by photographing the men.

“It was an instant reaction. It was just an horrendous thing to see happening on the day, but there were not many better people to be placed there than me,” he added.

It was the third time Sgt Paul Stephenson had been commended by a judge in his career. He believed it was road traffic patrolling which had enabled him to pursue the case, some of it in his own time. He praised the witnesses who had gone to court to speak out.

“They were brave to come forward,” said Sgt Stephenson.

“It was an horrific case but we achieved an excellent result.”

Sgt recalls grisly find

SERGEANT Paul Stephenson was working at Malton police station on January 30 when the call came through that there was an incident at Howsham.

Pcs Anna Rees and Rosie Rodgers reported that a badger had been shot dead and they had stopped a vehicle containing three men, three dogs and firearms.

With the assistance of Pc Andy Grant and PCSO Andy Birkenshaw, another vehicle was stopped with a further two people and six dogs and a further three others were found by the river.

“Altogether we had eight men, two vehicles and 13 dogs, so it was a big operation,” said Sgt Stephenson.

Sgt Stephenson said the RSPCA assisted with getting the dogs into kennels and three were so badly injured they needed treatment by vets.

“Their own dogs suffered facial injuries, a bitten tail – the cruelty was not only to the badgers but it also affected their own dogs as well,” he said.

The next day Jean Thorpe, from Ryedale Badger Watch, along with police officers, returned to the scene to look for the shot badger.

“We couldn’t find it at first so we brought the police dogs in and they located the body 80 metres away from the sett in a ditch,” said Sgt Stephenson.

Sgt Stephenson said that when they dug down where the sett had been they found another badger with its insides ripped out and four foetuses which were about two weeks from birth.